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What is Laser 3D Printing?
From its inception in 1986 when it was first introduced by Chuck Hull, 3D Printing technique has come a long way. 3D Printing is a manufacturing method in which, a 3 dimensional object is built by adding the material layer by layer.
The printer is linked with 3D modeling software in which we can design our product before going into actual printing. Since this kind of printing uses only that much materials required by the software, we see very little or no wastage and therefore this technique is environment friendly.
As 3D Printing involves the addition of material, it is also called Additive Manufacturing. It is extensively used for designing and preparing the prototypes of actual products. These prototypes can be prepared very quickly and therefore this method is also known as Rapid Prototyping.
The Differences Between Laser Cutting and 3D Printing
Another method i.e. Laser Cutting has been prevalent in designing and preparing the parts. Both techniques are extensively used to prepare different parts and share some common features. And it results into obvious confusion that which technique should be used for specific application. Therefore, it is important to understand the differences between Laser Cutting and 3D Printing. Some of the important difference has been enlisted herewith:
- 3D Printing is an additive method in the sense that the object is created by adding the material layer by layer. On the other hand, Laser Cutting is a subtractive method as it takes the help of materials removal to shape any object.
- Laser Cutting is cost effective but less efficient as compared to 3D printing. If one has to design parts with high precision and clarity 3D Printing should be obvious choice.
- With the help of 3D Printing, we can build most sophisticated parts e.g. medical equipment like jaws, prosthesis, orthopedic and cranial implants, surgical instruments etc. Similarly, fashion accessories, architecture and electronics components. On the other hand, with help of laser cutting we can cut or engrave different materials e.g. acrylic, plywood, MDF, cardboard, POM to make a large part in cost effective manner.
Different Processes in 3D Printing
Starting from the Stereolithography that was first introduced by Chuck Hull, the present 3D Printing technology has matured a lot. Based on different working principle of additive manufacturing process, 3D Printing can be classified as: material extrusion, vat photopolymerization, powder bed fusion, material jetting, binder jetting, sheet lamination and directed energy deposition. Some of the important technologies that are based on these working principles are given as follows:
- Stereolithography (SLA)
- Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
- Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
- Digital Light Process (DLP)
- Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)
- Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
- Electron Beam Melting (EBM)
Out of these methods SLA and SLS are more popular and here we explore these two methods in detail:
SLA, also known as. Vat Photopolymerization prepares a 2D layer of desired object by exposing UV laser beam and curing a liquid photopolymer resin. JPT’s DPSS UV laser are particularly very useful for photo-curing. These laser sources can produce highly efficient UV laser beam for high speed processing.
This process can be repeated layer by layer with the help of computer added programming until the complete product is ready. SLA can produce very fine feature with great precision. However, its dependency on photopolymers, limit its versatility. Also, considering the strength of product, SLS proves to be superior technique than SLA.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS):
SLS, is a favorite technique in industrial environment. In SLS, laser is used to melt or fuse or sinter the powder material (metal powder or non-metal powder) to fabricate the product. At first, the powder is dispersed in the working chamber and preheated at comparatively lower temperature to raise the temperature of powder material. It makes easier to raise temperature selectively using laser that is well guided by the computer programs.
JPT’s CW 300w laser have optimum characteristics to be used in sintering process. This process is repeated layer by layer to fabricate actual 3D structure. The build structure further needs cooling and postprocessing steps to optimize the final product.
Since SLS does not depend on photopolymer, it offers more variety. The portion of powder, which is not fused, is utilized as a support system for printing that is clearly advantageous over SLA which requires dedicated support system.
Both SLA and SLS has their own advantages and drawbacks. One can decide suitable one based on their requirements. SLA has clear edge where accuracy, finishing and ease of use is desired. Whereas SLS is an advantageous technique if quantity and sophistication is the main requirement of product.
3D Printing Benefits
With passing time, 3D printing became more and more relevant in different industries as it offers many benefits over other traditional methods. The important benefits are outlined herewith:
One of the most important advantage of 3D Printing has been its speed. When 3D Printing was not in existence, other traditional methods were used to take weeks in preparing the prototypes. And it naturally delayed the whole process that also leave their impact on the final cost of the product.
3D Printing can design and manufacture parts in no time. It made manufacturing and testing and customization very fast. Since design files can be saved in computer, they can be modified, if desired, without affecting the actual manufacturing process. This is significant specially in small scale business.
3D Printing can be used to prepare prototypes as well as most sophisticated end products. It will work even in most complicated designing where other techniques might not work.
3D Printing works with different type of materials such as plastic, powders, resin, metals, carbon fiber, graphene etc. and therefore we have a many different choice to pick based on our requirements. JPT lasers, in particular, are very demanding in industry and can be used to process the materials like Nylon, ABS, Resin, Polylactic Acid, and metals like steel, gold, silver etc. As an example, we can pick material based on their cost, strength, stiffness, flexibility, transparency etc.
The rapidness and flexibility of 3D Printing directly affects its cost as well. Traditional methods like CNC machining and Injection Molding involves costlier machines. These machines require specialized operator to handle and therefore higher labor cost is also involved in these traditional machining process. 3D Printing, on the other hand is not as expansive and requires one or two operators to handle it. Further, minimal waste material makes 3D Printing makes it cost effective manufacturing method.
The products in 3D Printing can be reproduced precisely with minimal or no variation therefore there is a quality assurance too in this technique. Layer by layer deposition allows one to check for any possible errors. That was never the case in traditional methods and one had to make a lot of compromises.
With more and more accessibility to this popular technique, it is going to rule almost any industry in future.
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